Flu hits state hard; St. Luke’s Hospital takes precautions

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The North Carolina Weekly Influenza Surveillance Summary on the “widespread” flu outbreak has prompted St. Luke’s Hospital officials to impose restrictions to protect patients and teammates. North Carolina joins 45 other states considered to have widespread cases of the flu.

To curb the spread of flu and protect patients as well as employees, St. Luke’s Hospital is limiting hospital visitors and enforcing the use of face masks by patients who exhibit flu-like symptoms and by caregivers who have not received the flu vaccine.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 9, hospital officials request no visitors under the age of 12 and no visitors who are experiencing flu-like symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and diarrhea or vomiting.

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“Unless you are coming to the hospital for treatment, no one with flu-like symptoms should be visiting patients in a hospital,” said St. Luke’s Hospital’s Infection Preventionist Lori Rothell, RN. “Our patients are already in a compromised state of health, so please be mindful, stay home, and take care of yourself.”

Those most at risk for complications caused by flu include the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, healthcare workers and those with chronic illnesses, according to the World Health Organization,

“We’ve been closely monitoring flu activity in the hospital, in the region and across the state and nation,” Rothell said. “The Department of Public Health indicates an increase in the number of patients suffering with influenza-like illness (ILI) as well as being geographically widespread across North Carolina.”

In a Patient Care Committee meeting Tuesday at St. Luke’s, Emergency Department Medical Director Alison Owens, MD, reported that in one day, five patients in the Emergency Department tested positive for flu.

While approximately 46,000 cases of influenza have been diagnosed across the country, 20 people (two of which were children) in North Carolina have died from flu-related causes since the season began October 2017.  That number is nearly double the 11 flu-related deaths reported around the same time period last year.

Lethal complications from flu have prompted St. Luke’s Hospital and many healthcare facilities to require vaccinations for all teammates, physicians and volunteers unless there is a medical or religious exemption. Currently 99 percent of St. Luke’s workers have been vaccinated. Healthcare workers who are exempt from vaccines must wear facemasks within six feet of patients.

It is not too late to get a flu shot, Rothell said. In addition, she is advocating and reminding everyone to use proper hand hygiene. Hand washing with soap and water is the best mode of prevention, Rothell said, but the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer is helpful as well. She also recommends people cover their cough and keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth.

Rothell encourages everyone to get a flu vaccine as the first line of defense. While it may not prevent the flu, it is a proactive way that can prevent complications, lessen hospitalizations and minimizes the severity of the illness.

“This flu season is considered aggressive, and the flu itself can be dangerous,” Rothell said. “We apologize for any inconvenience these visitor restrictions may cause, but protecting our patients is our first priority. We also want and need our caregivers to be healthy, on the job and capable of caring for sick patients.”

For more information on the flu, its symptoms, treatment, vaccines and misconceptions, go to the Centers for Disease Control website at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm.

– submitted by Kathy Woodham